4 FM quick reads on Accessibility
1. Using ADA To Evaluate Facilities
Maintenance and engineering managers trying to ensure the accessibility of institutional and commercial facilities must consider the "usual suspects" —restrooms, entrances and interior paths. But they also must assess a host of other items and elements that can affect the use of a facility by an individual with disabilities.
Although alarms fall into this category, post-9/11 emergency preparedness and safety cannot have a higher priority. Audible alarms are only effective for people who can hear. Where audible alarms exist, ADA access guidelines require the installation of visual strobe alarms. This situation is particularly true in restrooms. Managers should take a serious look at their facilities to ensure that visual strobe alarms accompany audible alarms.
Other items of importance include water fountains and coolers, pay phones, cash machines, and vending machines. When negotiating for the lease, purchase or placement of these items, managers must make sure the items themselves meet ADA requirements.
Managers also must review product information carefully. The presence of an ad or cut-sheet with the international symbol of accessibility does not signify the item meets ADA requirements. There is no Underwriters Laboratory for ADA.
Instead, managers need to ask questions, make sure that the vendor answers them, and be confident that the new water fountain or cooler is compliant. Then make sure it is installed in an accessible location. Nothing is worse than a compliant water fountain located at the top of a set of steps.
Ultimately, managers must be vigilant about the accessibility and safety of their facilities. Using the ADA requirements as a template for that process is an excellent way to ensure a facility is safe and user-friendly for people with disabilities, seniors, parents pushing baby strollers, and even aging baby boomers — basically, everyone who visits a building each day.
2. ADA and Universal Design: A Closer Look
Much like green buildings and sustainable design, accessibility and universal design in institutional and commercial facilities make sense for a number of reasons, not simply for the sake of compliance. The concept makes facilities more user-friendly.
The task for maintenance and engineering managers is to help planners incorporate the concept in ways that benefit visitors and occupants and keep facilities maintainable. These examples offer managers straightforward, low-cost options.
Parking. Using placards indicating handicapped parking is on the rise in garages and lots. But senior citizens who have difficulty walking or health problems that are not readily obvious — such as emphysema or heart disease — often use them, as well. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides a numerical table to help managers determine the required number of reserved accessible van and car spaces. These are minimum standards, so if space is available, managers can include additional spaces.
If a facility has multiple entrances or levels of parking, consider spreading these spaces out among the entrances or levels, making sure additional spaces meet the requirements and include access aisles and signs.
Exterior areas. Sidewalks, parking lots, pathways and other areas of pedestrian travel are critical areas for proper maintenance. Repair work might take place during the winter to ensure that walking surfaces are clear and dry and that plowed snow does not end up ine accessible parking spaces or at the bottom of curb ramps.
It also is important to make sure walking surfaces remain smooth and free of gaps, cracks and other obstacles that present trip hazards for anyone, particularly those who have trouble seeing or walking. They then become a risk-management problem for the organization.
Entrances. Heavy doors generate the most complaints from people using buildings. Even though a large number of factors go into designing an exterior entrance, managers have options that can benefit all occupants and visitors.
Power-assisted door operators have become more cost-effective and cost-efficient. Again, from a universal user standpoint, delivery personnel, sales people and those pulling briefcases and PCs on wheeled cases are the heaviest users of these doors.
For airlock or interior doors, checking door closers regularly can mitigate accessibility complaints. Make sure that door operation requires a force of 5 pounds or less.